Why Won't the U.S. Ratify CEDAW?

U.S. the Only Democracy Opposed to the International Bill of Rights for Women

Group of women
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If the U.S. is a leading proponent of international women's rights, why won't it ratify CEDAW, the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women? What is the basis of U.S. opposition to this Treaty for the Rights of Women?

Backed by Three Presidents
Often referred to as an international bill of rights for women, CEDAW was adopted by the United Nations in 1979. President Jimmy Carter signed the treaty guaranteeing gender equity within its first year.

But the Senate has never ratified CEDAW, and without ratification the U.S. is not bound by its provisions.

In addition to Carter, two other presidents have attempted to push forward CEDAW. Urged by the Clinton administration in 1994, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on CEDAW and recommended it be ratified. Yet Senator Jesse Helms, a leading conservative and longtime CEDAW opponent, prevented a vote in the Senate.

In the early years of his administration, President George W. Bush looked favorably on ratification of CEDAW but later changed his position. In 2002, although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-7 to approve the treaty, it was never sent to the full Senate for advice and consent to ratification.

Opposed by Conservatives and the Religious Right
Over a hundred organizations support ratification of CEDAW including Amnesty International, the League of Women Voters, and AARP.

The main opposition comes from conservative groups and the religious right who are concerned that CEDAW will challenge the laws and culture of the U.S.

In arguments against CEDAW, the conservative organization Concerned Women for America cite that ratification of the treaty will:

  • negate family law and undermine traditional family values by redefining the family
  • force the U.S. to pay men and women the same for "work of equal value" thus going against our free-market system
  • ensure access to abortion services and contraception
  • create a possible 'back door' ERA for feminists
  • allow same-sex marriage
  • legalize prostitution
  • promote gender re-education
  • negate parental rights
  • undermine the sovereignty of the U.S.
Reviewed By a 23-Member Committee
For these reasons, conservative politicians have actively fought against ratification of CEDAW and thwarted any attempt to introduce a vote before the full Senate. Backed by the religious right, they state that CEDAW is at best unnecessary, At worst, it will subject the U.S. to the whims of the 23-member CEDAW Committee which reviews the reports of ongoing compliance efforts submitted by ratifying nations every four years.

As Concerned Women for America states, "This, in essence, places the welfare and well being of American women and families at the mercy of 23 individuals, among whom the United States might not even have a voice."

The U.S. is the only democracy that has not ratified CEDAW.

Cohn, Marjorie. "Obama: Ratify the Women' Convention Soon." Truthout.org, 5 December 2008.
MacLeod, Lauren. "Exposing CEDAW." ConcernedWomenforAmerica.org, 5 September 2000.